You Can’t Have Too Many Great Customer Stories
It’s often been said, “You can’t be too rich or too thin.” I would add, “Or have too many good customer stories.” Regardless of your industry, size, or time in business—and especially during tough economic times—customer success stories and case studies help sell your products or services. For purposes of this article, I’ll use customer stories and case studies interchangeably because even though they are a bit different, the process is quite similar.
In fact, 54% of buyers engage with case studies during their buying process, says the DemandGen Report 2020 Content Preferences Study. It’s not surprising that 73% of the most successful content marketers were more likely to have used case studies, according to Content Marketing Institute‘s B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends: Insights for 2022.
What the studies don’t tell you, though, is that—done right—they can improve the relationship between you and your customers at the same time.
It’s not easy
I have worked for a variety of companies that had one thing in common—they struggled to harness the power of customer stories and references to boost sales. The barriers are many, the excuses never ending. How many of these have you heard?
- My customers aren’t live (or happy enough) or the project isn’t complete yet
- My customer is too busy, or my team is too busy
- I don’t know enough about who has the right story to tell
- My customer won’t let us share their name or logo publicly
- And so on….
Organization and coordination are key
Okay, it’s not always easy, but to nurture the creation of good customer stories, you need to start with good organization and coordination. Before going any further, check with your sales organization to see if they do, in fact, need more customer stories to help them sell. (The answer will be yes.) Ask them to specify what they need (by industry, size, location, line of business, etc.).
Take an inventory of what customer case studies or stories you have now, and where you need to fill in the gaps. And be sure to get executive support for your efforts in advance, as cross-functional coordination is key.
Then answer these questions:
- Who are your customers and which products, services, and features are they using?
- What is the customer industry, size, location, and other relevant demographic information?
- What is their status now? Do they have open support issues or complaints? Has someone in your company spoken to them recently—and if so, were they happy?
- Is there anything to indicate they might be a good candidate for a story? Has the customer already been an advocate by speaking at events, being a reference, allowing you to mention them publicly or use their logo? Are they a member of a customer advisory group or roundtable?
- Is there anything in their contract with you that indicates they have a policy that would allow or prevent them speaking on your behalf?
If you already have most of this information readily available in your customer systems (such as CRM, CDP, or similar), great. If not, you may need to supplement what you have with a spreadsheet. I’ve attached a simple spreadsheet to help you get started.
Once you have gathered your list, target customers based upon what sales needs most and who is likely to have the most compelling story. Prioritize those customers who seem most likely to say yes—the “low-hanging fruit,” so to speak. But not all customers are created equal—try to select those who are most knowledgeable about their industry, company, and your product. And if you have some customers who are perfect in other ways but not yet fully happy, can you arrange a little extra TLC to help resolve open issues?
Sell the customer on helping you
Next you will need to sell your customer on the idea of being the subject of a case study. In other words, what’s in it for them? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Increase visibility, name recognition, and reputation for their company (free advertising)
- Advance the reputation of the individual(s) being interviewed (and hopefully quoted)
- Be thought of as a forward-thinking company, an innovator, or a problem-solver
- Create a stronger working relationship with your company and its people
- If your company offers other perks, by all means mention them—but customers won’t do it because of the perks, it’s just a nice thank you
Be sure to tell them that you want to make the process a win-win for both sides and as easy as possible for them. Even as you want your company to look good, you also want them to look good. Give them an example or two so they can see you produce a thoughtful, professional document that they would be proud to share.
Also, tell them up front that:
- Your team will do the majority of the work and will adapt to their schedule
- They will have the opportunity to review and change drafts of the story
- That you will publish nothing without their express permission, in accordance with requirements from their legal and/or communications departments
- You will provide them in advance with any release or approval form that your company requires so they can review in advance—so there are no surprises later
- How you plan to use the case study (can you only use it in whole or in part, or can you extract quotes; and will you use it on your website, social media, blogs, presentations, etc.)
If the customer is willing, be sure you ask the all-important question: What is your internal process for getting approval for us to use the case study on our website and in other promotional materials? You would be surprised how many get near the end of the process—during approval of final copy—and then find the customer cannot get approval to let you use it.
Prepare for the customer stories interview
Before the interview, get organized. Make sure you have looked at the customer’s background, business, and what products or services are used from your company. If people in your company know the customer, pick their brains to get a feeling for topics of potential interest. And decide up front what format the customer case study might take (formal case study, feature customer story, video interview) as it might impact the questions you need to ask. Not only will this help make the interview go quicker and smoother, it will convey to your interviewees that you value their time and their company’s relationship.
For a great look at customer case studies and storytelling, as well as a list of case study questions, read Customer Case Studies: Bringing the Power of Storytelling by Sridhar Ramanathan, Aventi Group COO and Co-founder. In particular, note how his questions are open-ended ones that help produce a compelling story. That’s what you want.
I usually share prepared questions in advance with my customers so they can also be ready for the interview with thoughtful answers. This not only makes them feel more comfortable, it can also help them organize quantified benefits, if any are available. This way, the interview will go smoothly and make good use of everyone’s time. Of course, allow extra time to pursue lines of thought that arise during the interview outside your prepared questions.
The interview, writing, and beyond
The rest is all downhill, and you’re on a roll. There are many articles available with tips on how to turn a customer into a great story or case study, so I won’t get into it here. In fact, I should mention that writing case studies is one of the many things we at Aventi Group do, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you need it.
Fast forward. You now have a case study or customer story, it’s been approved, and you’ve made it available to your sales people, marketers, and others. Be sure to take advantage of it wherever you can—on your website, on social media, in presentations, and with analysts (as allowed by your agreement with the customer). But also consider that a good story can also turn into a video, a trade show presentation by the customer, and so on. Once the hard work is done, it’s easier to get buy-in for additional methods of using it.
Above all, recognize the customer’s efforts and heap praise on them. You may even want to send a thank you email to the interviewee’s supervisor to express gratitude (check first). They went out of their way for you, and it’s time to make them feel special.
In parting, I will share one quick anecdote. A great client of ours did a customer case study. Not only was the interviewee knowledgeable and prepared, he worked with us to improve the case study, suggesting additions beyond what was learned during the interview. The case study was not only a success, but he had provided great, repeatable quotes for us to use. And he reached outside his immediate business function (data management) to gather and present viewpoints from across the business—customer service, IT, executives, and more. After it was released publicly, he realized that not only was his company benefiting from the free advertising, but he was being recognized as a thought leader and innovator in his field, both inside and outside his company. As a result, he became even more willing to speak on my client’s behalf. This was truly an example of a win-win situation that has caused the relationship to become stronger.
If you’d like some expert help writing customer stories and case studies, contact us for a free 30-minute consultation.